Pittsburgh Eruv Miraculously Intact Despite Collapsed Bridge

pittsburgh bridge eruv
President Joe Biden and first responders looking at the scene of the collapse. Rabbi Elisar Admon is at right in reflective vest. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

When Rabbi Shimon Silver heard news of the collapse of Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge, his first thought was for the victims. (There were 10, but none life-threatening injuries.) And his second: What would be with the city’s eruv?

A portion of the eruv that goes along Forbes Avenue uses the bridge. Now, with only hours to Shabbos, Rabbi Silver, Rav of Young Israel of Pittsburgh and Rav hamachshir of the city’s eruv and mikvaos, was unsure if the eruv was still kosher, and shuls sent messages to their members alerting them that it may be impermissible to carry that Shabbos.

“I immediately started getting calls from people who rely heavily on the eruv,” Rabbi Silver tells Hamodia. “Parents of a wheelchair bound boy; someone whose wife has to go into hospital, possibly on Shabbos – what can they take with? People providing Shabbos food for elderly neighbors; people who had an old private eruv from before the public eruv was built was built, now needed to rebuild it to get from one part of their property to another; people who don’t have a Shabbos key-belt. They all needed answers, some more desperately than others. I needed to find out if the eruv was kosher, and to do that, I had to get down to the blocked-off collapse scene.”

Meanwhile Rabbi Elisar Admon arrived at the scene at 8:15 a.m., approximately 95 minutes after the bridge collapsed. A chaplain for the Pittsburgh Police and Pennsylvania State Troopers, Rabbi Admon came as usual to offer counsel and encouragement to first responders. When his phone buzzed with an email from the local shuls alerting residents that the eruv’s status was in question, he called Rabbi Silver and said, “I think I can bring you in and we can check the eruv together,” Rabbi Admon recalls in an interview with Hamodia.

Rabbi Admon and Rabbi Silver then began walking along the eruv’s path.

“Almost up to the bridge we use the wall of a cemetery,” Rabbi Silver says. At the end of the bridge, the eruv uses a traditional pole and string, up to the ravine below the bridge, which serves as a teil hamislakeit ­­(steep slope) and therefore part of the eruv. Where the ravine bottoms out, Rabbi Silver explains, “the pylons and girders of the bridge are a tzuras hapesach (doorway form) by themselves — the pylons are the lechayayim (vertical beams) and the bridge itself is the kaneh al gabeihim (horizontal beam).

“That spans the ravine. At the other end of the bridge we have our own pole, attached to the other side of the steep ravine. Then, from our pole we have a string going to the light poles along the rest of Forbes Avenue.”

pittsburgh bridge eruv
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The two rabbis checked both sides of the bridge, and saw that the eruv poles were unharmed. This was particularly fortunate on the side opposite side from the cemetery, where the bridge collapse occurred just before the pole.

But the big question would be about the bridge itself: How could it possibly survive as a kosher eruv?

With Rabbi Silver’s eruv expertise and Rabbi Admon’s credentials, the two walked past the first responders and elected officials and down the “Tranquil Trail,” which runs along the cemetery and down the ravine, to make an examination of the eruv.

And what Rabbi Silver saw made him burst out in emotion — a sentiment still evident more than 48 hours later.

“The bridge had collapsed and made itself into a new wall,” Rabbi Silver exclaims, then elaborates. “The slopes were still good. For the space between the slopes, the section of the bridge acted as a wall. The deck of the bridge had girders that acted as a wall. There were gaps between the sections (pirtzos) but they were less than 10 amos, and the metal from the railings of the bridge were kind of filling in those pirtzos as well. Unbelievable! Mamash nissim!”

Rabbi Admon, whose davens in Rabbi Silver’s shul and attends his daf Yomi shiur, said he was overjoyed merely upon witnessing his rav’s excitement.

“Rabbi Silver works very hard to check the eruv every Thursday, driving and walking,” Rabbi Admon says. “I was emotional for him.”

The intact eruv was just the latest of many miracles that occurred Friday, Rabbi Admon says.

pittsburgh bridge eruv
L-R: Rabbi Silver, Rabbi Admon, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey.

“A lot of our community members drive on that bridge every day. Because of the snowstorm, the schools were delayed so no school buses were on the bridge. No one was walking on the hiking trail under the bridge, and there were no homeless there either. As soon as I arrived I saw the Yad Hashem. Nobody died from falling off the bridge in their vehicles. The bridge carried a gas line, and there was a strong smell of gas, but there was no gas explosion. And when we realized that the fallen bridge made its own eruv, I felt it was mamesh chasdei Hashem.”

While the overjoyed Rabbi Silver left the scene after assuring the eruv was kosher, for Rabbi Admon the day was far from over.

President Joe Biden was previously scheduled to visit Pittsburgh that day — to promote his infrastructure bill. The collapsed bridge was a perfect site for the president to make a detour and push passage of a bill that would provide funding for bridges and other public works.

Rabbi Admon was asked to remain at the scene along with the first responders who would greet the president.

An all-purpose askan, Rabbi Admon is also chaplain to the FBI; was a ZAKA volunteer in his native Israel, then joined the Pittsburgh chevra kadishah, where his wife Tova volunteers as well; he is also a volunteer for Chesed Shel Emes, a New York-based organization he connected with when their volunteers came to Pittsburgh to assist with kavod hemeis following the Tree of Life massacre, and Rabbi Admon was instrumental in cutting the red tape to allow the organization to perform its holy work. His day job is as a mohel and rebbi in the local yeshiva; he also earns a salary as a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain.

While chatting at the scene with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Rabbi Admon joked, “All my bosses are here – the mayor, governor and president” — the heads of the city police, state police, and Army, respectively.

pittsburgh bridge eruv
View of the bridge from the bottom of the ravine. (Rabbi Elisar Admon)

For an Israeli-American who has had quite a few life experiences, meeting the U.S. president ranks right near the top.

“I was thinking the president would speak to media and elected officials, and walk through us and say goodbye,” Rabbi Admon recalls. “But the governor had told the White House aides that the first responders had some incredible stories of what they witnessed that the president should hear, and the president actually spent most of the time with the first responders. He started asking questions of each of us, about what we had seen when we arrived.”

As Biden met and chatted with the first responders, photographers snapped photos and cameras rolled, and across the news wires and airwaves streamed images of the president standing next to a man in a reflective vest and velvet yarmulke.

“President Biden shook our hands and gave us a presidential coin,” Rabbi Admon recalls. “He asked us to show him around, where the people had fallen and where they had jumped out of their vehicles. The president seemed amazed at what had happened.”

“It’s a miracle, Mr. President,” Rabbi Admon said. “It’s a miracle.”

“It really is, it really is, ” Biden responded. “It’s astounding.”

Rabbi Admon says that Biden then shared stories with the first responders of his growing up in Scranton, and that the president spoke of the importance of the infrastructure bill, particularly for Pittsburgh, a city of many bridges.

“The president seemed interested in our experiences,” Rabbi Admon says. “He was very nice and friendly, and seemed humble.”

pittsburgh bridge eruv
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As Biden left the scene, Rabbi Admon said, “G-d bless you, Mr. President, and G-d bless America, and thank you so much for coming here.” Biden responded, “Thank you, rabbi.”

Back home, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh enjoyed a normal Shabbos. Normal, but with so much more appreciation.

Throughout the holy day, community members who passed Rabbi Silver or Rabbi Admon on the street thanked them for their efforts.

“There were two simchas in town, and people had been nervous not being able to carry,” Rabbi Admon says. “Hashem helped the community — to be able to be shomer Shabbos and to enjoy Shabbos.

“And I felt grateful that Hashem had given me an opportunity to be mekeadesh shem Shamayim.”

Rabbi Silver still speaks in amazement of the moment he realized the eruv was kosher.

“When I saw that there was nothing that we needed to do, that Hashem had taken care of it, I got choked up. The frum Yidden will use the eruv if it’s kosher — and if it’s not kosher they won’t carry,” he says. “But there are a bunch of Yidden out there who don’t realize that they are being saved from chillul Shabbos by an eruv.”

“I’m still choked up now, thinking about how much Hashem wants us to be shomer Shabbos.”


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